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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 14 May 2009

Vol. 682 No. 4

Harbours (Amendment) Bill 2008 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I welcome the opportunity to say a few words on the Bill. I will make reference to conditions I know about in a small west of Ireland port, namely, Galway. I was the author of a report for the human sciences committee of the Irish national productivity committee towards the end of the 1960s.

Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted and 20 Members being present,

In 1969 in my first research position I finished a report for the human sciences committee of the Irish national productivity committee on the factors affecting productivity in a small Irish port, namely, Galway. The issue was our response to changing circumstances in sea traffic. The port of Rotterdam had expanded massively into the roll-on, roll-off business. Right across the world in different ports it was a very tense time, as often ill-thought out proposals not made on the basis of consultation sought to achieve a decasualisation of dock labour which was one of the hottest issues.

My work is not as relevant to this legislation, but it involved interviewing all of those who had worked at the docks, their families and port users, as well as those who were seeking to develop both general cargo and other forms of trade operations from the port. I recall this because in a way I am very familiar with the space or physical setting of ports. It is important we bear in mind the cultural significance of a port or harbour in its physical setting. Some, not just families but generations of people, have constructed their lives and relationships with their city in terms of that proximity. This seems to have been swept aside in the consideration of thinking from the mid-1990s onward, when there was a view that harbour commissioners and boards were antiquated and needed to be replaced by what were called dynamic port development companies with a commercial ethos. There was a basis to people being unhappy with harbour companies or boards as in many ways they were inefficient. It is important to remember that there is significant evidence — I believe the Minister shares this view — that port operators or persons who retained their positions year after year used them in ways that were not in the interests of the development of the port or community in which it was situated. To go further, they were very clever at blocking new users. I need not go into the details now, but some ports show an interesting history of the attempts to achieve and sustain monopoly conditions in business, from the distribution of coal to the use of the stevedoring companies to provide labour for the unloading of ships. This is the rich background the the issue of ports. I am concerned about the evolution that has taken place into commercial companies because this can cross a line that means the new port company is less a harbour company in the old sense than a property company in the modern sense. These two sets of functions are not always easily reconciled and what I have to say deals with this issue in a number of ways.

The Minister of State, for whom I have great respect, does not carry the burden of this, but it is scandalous that we do not have a Department of the marine. I remember when I was a relatively young Member of the Oireachtas sharing a bottle of sparkling water with the late former Taoiseach, Charles J. Haughey. He asked about my views on the sea, ports and the marine and I casually used the phrase, "The Irish people must be encouraged to turn their eyes to the sea again." Because he was such a sensitive man and knew a good line, I heard that line repeated as the headline to his speech the following week. I wished him well with it as a philosophy. Unfortunately, one of the questions that could be used as a tie-breaker in any quiz held in this country would be where is the Department of the marine now, as it keeps moving. The breaking up of the functions associated with the marine makes no sense. It makes no sense in responding to international law. We are on the verge of some positive exploration developments in the Irish jurisdiction under the Law of the Sea treaty. We might be quite far on in arriving at a practical point of development in agreements between the United Kingdom and Denmark. There is a Marine Institute and we have finally got going in assessing our potential marine resources. It makes no sense to have no stand-alone Minister for the marine.

Responsibility for coastal zone management lies in one place, while responsibility for preparing the foreshore legislation lies somewhere in the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, someone else is responsible for commercial traffic and another person for fisheries. This Bill gives power to own property not just beyond the harbour but abroad. It makes sense to have harbour companies that can use the skills they have developed. That is not the issue. The functions related to the sea, marine, harbours, ports, fishing, safety and conservation are scattered indiscriminately across different Departments. I urge whatever Government comes in to take all that we know, given the new developments, and put them into a significant Department of the marine.

In his Second Stage speech the Minister mentioned that this Bill came about as a result of significant consultation. That statement is a bit florid. I do not recall seeing any report of significant consultation with elected members on the proposal to remove them from the board of the new port authorities. It may well be that there was significant consultation, as is the norm, with the City and County Managers Association which might have a particular view but, if so, it did not communicate this either to its elected members or through them to the public. I appeal to the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Kelleher, to save us having to oppose this Bill in respect of its amendment to the Harbours Act 1996 which takes away the representation by local authority members. The Minister retains the power to put a member back but the Bill describes this as a director from the local authority. It is not clear whether this is an elected member or, for example, a director of services. The Minister of State can clarify the point later but I suggest that he eliminate it and include the elected members.

I say this for practical reasons which I hope are not partisan although they will be perceived as such. Where the ports are strategically located they are inevitably involved with other spaces which involve transport for example, in line with modern thinking and meeting European standards, we need a road to access the port and to be able to define how the traffic will impact on an integrated transport model. If we are to integrate planning for transport and for the new port companies in respect of the physical space, their buildings, and urban planning, it is invaluable to have open, transparent representation of, and reporting from, the port company on the local authority. For example, in Galway city CIE has not yet resiled from its proposals for the largest site in a European city, having instructed the lead architect to get €9 million from the site. Approximately 15% of the proposals deal with public transport although CIE is statutorily obliged to provide public transport. It wants to sweat the site to build apartments and shops and other retail developments which we do not want. There is neither a road shown from that site to where the local authority has plans, nor any connection whatsoever with the harbour yet it has published plans for a multi-million euro development which does not access the CIE site or the proposed transport system for the city.

That is an example of what can happen if there is no open or transparent reporting or integrated thinking. It should not be the case in 2009 that responsibility for these developments lies with the Departments of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and Transport and that responsibility for harbours is somewhere else. We will not move from this position without integrated thinking that represents and achieves good planning.

Other issues arise. The Bill transfers significant powers from the Minister for Transport to An Bord Pleanála but bearing in mind the example I have given this will have the effect of stirring a wasps' nest if the Minister does not say how he defines strategic infrastructure in three places that adjoin one another but are not connected. In another way, and in other places, I will publicly develop my point about how CIE discharges its functions of establishing strategic infrastructure when it devotes only 15% of a site set aside for public transport to that purpose and uses the rest for property development. It has already put itself into the Bord Pleanála trap, to use a greyhound racing analogy, thinking it can get out of it fast. The port is trying to do the same.

This legislation, which removes the elected representatives from the authority and is not integrated with other planning, is now also going to An Bord Pleanála which will enjoy the functions the Minister previously had. The argument will be that this concerns strategic infrastructure. How does one balance that if it has nothing to do with significant port-related activity? This also involves fisheries and other port usages such as ferries and so on. These must be balanced. The best way to deal with this is to have a Department of the marine. It is necessary to be able to integrate different kinds of transport systems.

What kind of company will emerge when this legislation is passed? It seems to have many of the characteristics of a property development company. If I am right the following absurd situation arises, the company develops part of the area around the port, and has to sell this to leverage or trigger what it might borrow for what will be miniscule developments in respect of the traditional uses of ports. This could be a recipe for disaster, the resources of ports could be put into very expensive pre-planning models and models of property development that might never come to pass. Returning to my conversation with the late Mr. Charles Haughey, instead of turning the eyes of people in our ports to the sea we will have turned them to their cheque books, to the valuable sites around the port which will be used for property development.

I have a further point in this regard, which even raises constitutional difficulties. Supposing port companies decided to start reclaiming from the sea and started to drive coaches and four through whatever is left of the Foreshore Act, how would they then function? Who would own that which was reclaimed and on what basis could it be used? Could it be used for property development, for example? One is left with a speculative suggestion. The notion is that it does not matter what one is doing, be it fishing, transporting on the sea or dealing with others, such as dockers, as long as one calls one's company a port company. The legislation would be very bad if this were allowed.

I hope every point I have made has been offered on the basis of being positive. One should remove the section removing the elected representatives on the grounds of having better integration into everything else that is happening. One should think again about the powers being transferred to An Bord Pleanála. I have a commitment that is not sentimental to the communities around harbours and ports and to the people who worked there inter-generationally. Their history is important, as are their functions and types of future employment.

When great plans are being discussed regarding ports and harbours, there is sometimes what is alluded to in planning legislation and local government as a preplanning consultation. A preplanning consultation between representatives of boards and directors of services, or county or city managers, in office or retired, is not an adequate discussion. To be political about it, the members of the public who walked down to their harbours and ports, or who went down to the sea and looked at it, believed those ports or harbours were public spaces although they did not own them collectively. When I consider what is being proposed regarding port companies, which were harbour companies formerly and harbour boards theretofore, and people who might have been dockers, for example, I begin to think of the talk of signature buildings. The idea is that one will see signature buildings as one comes into one's port. In this respect, I am familiar with Galway Bay.

The word "harbour" is important in this legislation. It should be a harbour for things that float rather than a harbour for speculative investment. We should have had enough of the latter. I suggest, in respect of the points I am making, that we all want to get this Bill right in the short term. I hope there will be all-party agreement, regardless of who is next in Government, to have a Ministry for the marine that puts all these functions together. There should be local representation and, ideally, regional representation and actions should be transparent. We should have integrated thinking and planning in respect of all forms of transport, including road, rail, sea and air transport, domestic and international. That is the way to proceed. Meanwhile, the pub quiz will continue. The real question is, "Where is the Department of the Marine?" If one gets that right, one can finish off the opposition with the tie-breaker question, "Who is responsible for the Foreshore Act?" No one will get that right and one will be certain to win.

I am sure Deputy Michael D. Higgins will be going off for a pint to go with the pub table quiz.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this legislation. Will the Leas-Cheann Comhairle indicate when I have five minutes remaining?

Is the Deputy sharing his time?

I am not but there is an issue I want to discuss and I do not want to get carried away.

Restraint is good.

The specific aspect of the Bill on which I want to focus is section 20, which concerns the amendment of section 4A of the Marine Institute Act 1991. It pertains to the Irish Maritime Development Office and shipping services. I will focus on the specific issue of border controls at harbours around the country, in respect of which I have serious concerns. I brought this issue to the attention of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in the context of the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill. However, he seems to be washing his hands of the issue. Under the legislation on entry into this country, a number of ports are designated for the legal entry of persons, namely, those in Dublin, Dún Laoghaire, Galway, Greencastle, Moville, Rosslare and Waterford. Larne in Northern Ireland can also be used legally by people who want to enter this jurisdiction from across the Border.

I have great concerns over the checks in place at the legitimate ports of entry. I am concerned that some other ports in the country could be used for the illegal transfer of people into this jurisdiction. In the context of the legislation before us, it is vital that the issues of security and border control be taken into consideration while bearing in mind the provisions for the development of our existing ports and the improvement of services, not only in the ports that already take foot passengers but also ports that may be developed with this in mind. It is vital that the Irish Maritime Development Office, local authorities taking over some of the ports' roles and An Bord Pleanála give full consideration to this.

Let me highlight a number of problems with border controls at our harbours. It is of the utmost importance that someone take responsibility for this issue. It seems it is being ignored at present by the various agents of the Government. There is an onus on the Minister of State to make proper and adequate provision in this Bill for port authority police who could legally stop and detain an individual pending the arrival of a garda if they have suspicions regarding that individual's illegal entry into the country or that he or she may be wanted by the authorities in this country or his or her country of origin.

Our three semi-State airports, in Cork, Shannon and Dublin, have airport police but there are none in any of the other airports in the country. Police with similar powers to those in Cork, Shannon and Dublin need to be appointed to the port authorities around the country. For example, in the part of the country of the Minister of State, Deputy Kelleher, there was a case concerning an illegal immigrant and rapist who set up a restaurant in west Cork and travelled in and out of Ireland using a murderer's passport. Despite his using this passport, he was never stopped, even when the convicted murderer went on the run from British police. The individual was only caught after getting drunk and coming to the attention of the immigration officers in Fishguard. When he was questioned by the immigration officers in Fishguard he could not remember where he was staying in London, so they looked with greater attention at his passport and recognised that it was a false one. There are, I am sure, numerous other cases, which do not come to the attention of the public, of people using our ports because they are seen as a soft touch in terms of immigration checks.

In a constituency adjoining mine there was an individual who recently came before the courts and the judge, as is standard practice when dealing with a non-Irish citizen, asked him to surrender his passport. The person, who had come from continental Europe through Rosslare harbour, said he did not have a passport as he had not used one to enter the jurisdiction in the first place. As a result, he could not surrender his passport to the courts. Again, this highlights the fact that border controls at our harbours and ports need to be dramatically strengthened to ensure they are not being used as an easy option for entry into this country.

Many officials in the area of trafficking of human beings, who have done much work in this regard, will tell one that our ports — including the port of Larne, as a result of the Border with Northern Ireland — are seen as soft options for entering into this jurisdiction and thence to the UK. The Welsh Assembly published a report on the trafficking of women and children which indicated that Ireland was being used for trafficking human beings into Wales through Fishguard and other ports.

Not only do we need to strengthen the powers of those conducting checks at our ports, we also need greater co-ordination between An Garda Síochána and the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs. An article published in a Sunday newspaper on 3 February last year highlights the weaknesses within the existing system. A source at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform stated that a Nigerian woman who had been recorded as having left the country in November 2002 had continued to claim social welfare benefits, to a total of €67,000, up to 2006. It defies logic that the Garda Síochána and the immigration system can identify someone as having left the country, yet they can continue to draw social welfare payments in this jurisdiction.

We have all come across cases of people who have applied for citizenship or long-term residency, one of the conditions for which is five years' continuous residence in this jurisdiction prior to the submission of their application, and after two or three years have received a letter back from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform saying it had been noted they had gone on holidays for a fortnight during the five-year period and were thus 14 days short of the required five years, resulting in their application being rendered null and void and a requirement to submit a new application. I doubt there is a Member of the House who has not come across such a case. How in God's name can we have a system which can identify that someone has left the country for 14 days but not that someone from within the EU is flying back and forth and continuing to claim social welfare payments after having officially left the country? There is a crazy logic in our immigration system whereby we know to the exact minute when one set of nationals has left the country, but for another set of nationals, all outside the Schengen Agreement area, we do not seem to know when they are entering or leaving the country. I do not understand how this continues to happen, and our social welfare system is being exploited as a result.

It is vital that we have greater co-ordination between both agents of the State. The Department of Social and Family Affairs is involved in meeting people once they come into the jurisdiction because they cannot function in this society without a PPS number. Surely there can be greater co-ordination, so that if the Garda happens not to identify a person at our ports or airports or a person comes across our unpoliced border with Northern Ireland, the social welfare system and the issuing of a PPS number will act as a safety net. There have been numerous instances in which the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs, even with its limited technology, has identified false documentation that has been presented for the issuing of PPS numbers. No one is going into the Department with false documentation looking for a PPS number unless he or she is trying to exploit the system in some way or conceal his or her true identity.

Given these loopholes, we are encouraging and promoting the trafficking of human beings into this country. We recently heard a report by the Immigrant Council of Ireland that it had identified 102 victims of trafficking in a 21-month period, 11 of whom were children, yet there have been no convictions in this jurisdiction for illegal trafficking of women and children. There is no doubt that our harbours and ports are being used as a soft touch for trafficking people into the country to work in a sex industry which is worth an estimated €180 million per year. It is frustrating to see the Garda being quoted as stating that mobile phones are the lifeblood of prostitution and that removing mobile phone numbers from the system could close down many of the brothels that are currently operating. If it is that easy to close down this massive industry which is exploiting women and children, surely we should be taking action. Why action has not been taken to date I cannot understand, because such activity is driving a coach and four through our border control system and making a joke of our immigration system at harbour and ports. Serious consideration must be given to this issue.

We have had numerous reports of individuals coming in through our harbours and ports because our immigration checks are scant in those areas. People with serious sexual convictions in other parts of Europe are coming here. A senior garda has been quoted as saying that many of them are free to work with children in this jurisdiction because of the difficulties with vetting. In 2007 the Garda vetting unit received 187,000 requests, in 15% of which the individuals involved were found to have convictions. We do not know how many of these are sexual convictions, but the EU has a responsibility to set up a Europe-wide database to allow us to identify people with serious convictions in these areas who should not be allowed next, nigh or near children. One of the crucial functions of the European Union should be to protect all of its citizens, yet it has failed to put such a system in place and ensure there is greater co-operation in the sharing of information. The difficulty is that, even were the database in place, the technology would not be available to our immigration service or to the Garda Síochána to allow for the identification of the individuals in question at ports and airports. Nor would it available to the Department of Social and Family Affairs, which might be able to identify the individuals when they seek to obtain PPS numbers.

I hope the Minister of State takes note of my points because this matter costs the taxpayer a significant amount of money in terms of the deportation of those who have entered the country illegally and what it is doing to fuel Ireland's significant sex industry. According to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform's figures on the new Thornton Hall prison, we will spend €6 million per year to provide accommodation for those who are to be deported.

I wish to raise two final points. Given the first point, I am glad that my constituency colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, is present. An issue close to his heart is that of aliens in our waterways. Recently, the bloody red shrimp has invaded the Shannon waterway. It seems to have spread through Lough Ree and Lough Derg. This issue is not only being ignored in our jurisdiction, but internationally. It must be addressed. Everyone knows about the considerable problems caused in the Shannon waterway by the zebra mussel, including water intake costs and damaged boats. There is a concern that the shrimp will have a major impact on the survival of juvenile coarse fish such as bream, perch and roach, as they compete for the same food source within the Shannon waterway.

More must be done internationally to ensure we have a tight agreement on the use and management of ballast water and that technologies are put onshore in our harbours to treat ballast water via chemicals, filtration or so on, thereby ensuring that we do not transport alien species from one part of the world to another. They pose a major bio-pollution problem. Ships transporting goods around the world are using ballast water, much of which is taken on board in one harbour and pumped out when the next port of call is reached. Under some international agreements, ballast water should be taken in only when ships are on the open sea. If it is harbour-sourced, it should be pumped out on the open sea and sea water pumped in. In these ways, there would be less chance of organisms either entering ballast water or, if they manage that, surviving the pumping out process to reach other ports. Ballast water has been used as a vehicle to transport the zebra mussel to Ireland and might have been used by the bloody red shrimp.

The cleaning of boats and the selling of pond plants in shops and gardening outlets should be regulated.

My final point is on Foynes Port. It could develop as a major international port had it pre-clearance from US customs, similar to the significant proposal in respect of Shannon Airport, which can put the airport back on the map. The harbour at Foynes is one of the finest in western Europe and I urge the Ministers and the Taoiseach to take this issue up with their US counterparts to try to reach an agreement on pre-clearance. Doing so might not only lead to the development of the Shannon Estuary, but of freight business on the western rail corridor and other rail corridors.

I recall discussing this Bill in its most recent guise several years ago and another even prior to that. Like the rivers, the harbours go on forever. Given the contribution of my colleague, Deputy Naughten, our maritime nation should recognise the importance of harbours and their development and the important role that such developments or a lack thereof can play in the commercial life of society. I compliment the various Governments of recent years on taking the initiative and developing a number of coastal harbours. However, much remains to be done in that regard and countless harbours and fishing ports could be developed to a greater extent. In turn, this could lead to the generation of commercial activity, be it leisure, fishing or so on. We have not made full use of the type of visionary development that is possible.

Several years ago, I was on holiday in one of our competitor states in the EU. I found that a whole region had been transformed by the development of a marina, an artificial beach and many ancillary facilities. We do not have the summer sunshine enjoyed by some countries, but it is worth knowing that the country in question has completely changed the area's quality of life and its value. It has done this by virtue of a simple intervention that was consistent with good planning, lent itself to the area's aesthetics at all times and did not breach any environmental rules or regulations on preserving the area's natural development. In the context of the Bill, we would do well to reconsider what development potential exists and to determine how far we could push the boat out, no pun intended.

Deputy Naughten's point on the involvement of harbour police or immigration authorities in the supervision of activities at ports was well made. It is good that most countries have stricter interpretations of the rules without being repressive. We must recognise the need to be up to date and compliant with international developments and codes in policing and immigration.

I do not live in a maritime county, but I was born in one. There are more harbours in my constituency than there are in most other countries, given our number of canals, including two main ones. There are harbours everywhere. Not for one moment am I suggesting that they present the same opportunities, but there is considerable scope for the development of sporting and recreational activity, as the Minister of State opposite knows well from his constituency. We have not even attempted to grasp the full extent to which harbours can be developed, be they maritime or inland harbours or controlled by maritime authorities, inland waterways authorities or Waterways Ireland. We can regenerate a great deal of activity in water sports through the development of various tourist based support facilities without in any way interfering or damaging the environment or way of life of those who live in their environs. Considerable work has been done in the Lough Erne and Shannon catchment areas. Apropos this legislation, the Minister might examine the full extent to which we can develop water sports recreational facilities in harbours with a view to maximising employment. In times such as these we should avail of every opportunity to maximise employment.

I wish to refer to harbour developments I have observed overseas, mainly while on holiday. At first glance one would not recognise that a development is, in fact, an artificial add-on development, for example, where the foreshore has been extended, land having been reclaimed from the sea, and facilities provided in harmony with the existing environment in a way that is hugely beneficial to employment creation and the provision of recreational facilities which are necessary at all times.

Our fisheries sector seems to have waned at little, for want of a better description, in recent years. That is the sad reality. It may well be that in the future we will rediscover the value of our sea fisheries which I hope will not be closed down. Having visited various fishing harbours, the tradition of fishing is obvious. Many families are dependent on the sea for their livelihoods. It is a difficult way of life, often fraught with danger. Sadly, we can recall many such instances. Given that some features of commercial activity have gone through tough times or that such activity has diminished, we should examine the alternatives and future prospects to determine the possibility of revitalising such activity. This legislation presents an opportunity to revisit and develop this sector through a combination of commercial and new recreational activity. I do not want to dwell on the development that has taken place in other countries, but given that there has been such development, there is no reason it cannot happen here with equal beneficial effect. The Minister of State might take some of these suggestions on board, not forgetting the potential of our inland harbours which are equally important.

Section 20 provides for the transfer of ministerial responsibility for the Irish Maritime Development Office to the Minister for Transport which was achieved by virtue of SI 842 of 2005. The amendment proposes to reflect the transfer by inserting a reference to the Minister for Transport in section 4A of the Maritime Institute Act 1991. Further amendments provide for the application of an additional function to the office in respect of the ports and ports services sector and for a minor addition to the explanation of the term “shipping services” in the section. Reference has been made to the development of shipping services. I am sure my good friend and colleague will make reference to the need for certain shipping services to ensure tourism and commercial development. Our friends in Cork have provided for the restoration of certain links with the Continent which should welcomed by all involved.

I note it has been suggested the Bill should not give rise to any direct cost to the Exchequer. I am certain that is true and if so, it must be a first. During my time in the House I do not know of a Bill that has not had some implications for the Exchequer.

There is a proposal to transfer certain responsibilities from the local authorities to An Bord Pleanála. This will come under the heading of the strategic infrastructural deficit. As I said previously, this can be a good move. The identification of infrastructural deficits in a particular area that need to be addressed is a positive step. However, it should never follow that because there is a deficit all contrary views should be set aside. There must be a degree of balance. I have spoken about this matter previously in the House and have had good reason to do so on a number of occasions in my constituency. In the context of this proposal, I emphasise that due regard must be had to the fact that in identifying infrastructural deficits and the need for a response to ensure issues are addressed, it should not automatically follow that the views of local people who might have genuine concerns about the possible environmental impact of proposals on an area are always right, but they do have a view that needs to be heard. That applies to all developments under this heading.

The Bill, as set out, has considerable potential. It can ensure positive developments in assisting in the generation and regeneration of activity in our ports and harbours, particularly given the need to do so at this time.

On one occasion I tabled a question to the Minister for Transport and learned that the Minister's area of responsibility only extended as far as the shoreline, that responsibility for the area beyond it came within the remit of the Minister with responsibility for the marine. There is a proposal to streamline this. I do not wish to suggest how Departments could be configured, but there is a relationship between transport and the marine that needs to be borne in mind to a greater extent that it has in the past. There is a certain degree of continuity that can flow from a meeting of minds on transport issues beyond the shoreline which would be to the benefit of the country. The proposal made in this respect will encourage investment in port companies, which is as it should be. Local initiatives and investment should be encouraged.

I hope that, as a result of the passing of this legislation, we will not see a situation — as has happened on many occasions — where questions asked of the Minister relating to the subject matter of the Bill will be met with the response that the Minister has no responsibility to the House. In recent times Ministers have introduced legislation which tends to offload responsibility to a quango and from then on the Minister has no responsibility, except to have occasional meetings with the board or executive of the quango concerned. That is not the way it is supposed to be. Where the relevant Minister introduces legislation governing the area for which he or she has responsibility, he or she should continue to have that responsibility and reply to questions in the House, for instance, whenever he or she is asked about the development of whatever facilities are in place or what future plans he or she might have. It is not sufficient to say the Minister is very busy directing policy and working at a very high level and that as a result, he or she could not possibly have the time to deal with the minutiae. I do not accept such an argument, nor do I accept that the technicalities of the administration of such matters at local level are beyond the competence of the Minister to comprehend. In the first instance, if the Department deems it appropriate that the Minister should bring forward the relevant legislation governing the operation of the areas for which he or she is responsible, the Minister or Minister of State should accept full responsibility when questions are raised in the House; neither should he or she be afraid to come into the House to answer such questions. Such responsibility empowers the Minister, gives greater credence to ministerial office and accords greater respect to the House. This is a win-win, both for the House and Ministers.

I do not wish to delay the House any further other than to say I hope the legislation will represent an improvement and present openings for initiatives and ensure the possibilities for development are fully availed of resulting in economic benefit. Unfortunately, much legislation has passed through the House during the years, some of which left a lot to be desired. It is hoped this Bill will not be such legislation and that there will be a net benefit in the national interest.

When the Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, introduced the Bill last Thursday, he referred to the extensive consultation that had taken place as the 2005 report, on which the legislation is based, was being prepared. However, many of those who will be affected by the Bill and whose livelihoods depend on the facilities that are the subject of the Bill have claimed that there was not adequate consultation. That was certainly the case according to the people of Fenit who claim that they were not consulted but merely told what the changes would mean for them. They were given no opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to any alleged consultation that might have affected the drafting of the Bill. They contrast that lack of consultation in the preparation of the 2005 report that led to this legislation with the wide consultations conducted prior to completion of the KPMG 1999 report. One of the findings of that report was that local management of ports and harbours such as Fenit and Bantry, for example, was quite adequate and did not need to be changed. The case being made by those involved in Fenit is that the interests of the port would not be best served by the proposal in the Bill to bring Fenit Harbour under the same authority as Foynes. Their reasons for making this case have to do with the very different interests at stake.

Fenit has been a harbour and a port for the town of Tralee and surrounding areas for more than 130 years. It was the main port for the importation of all the merchandise during that period. Cargo ships came from all over the world bringing timber, tea, coal and chocolate crumb into the area. Exports such as potatoes and corn were shipped from the port. When I was a young man, I worked on the docks for a period. Most people in the area had a direct tie to the port which was important to the economy of the area. During the 1960s there was a massive decline in the business of the port because of the use of other forms of transportation to bring merchandise into rural Ireland and ports such as Fenit suffered significantly as a result. Were it not for those engaged in the fishing sector, business would have collapsed completely. I remember vividly how important the port was for the fishing industry in the 1960s and early 1970s when thousands of cran of herring were landed on a nightly basis and transported from Fenit. It was a significant source of employment for people of the area, as well as for those involved in the fishing sector. However, as a result of the sell-out of the fishing sector in the EEC negotiations at the time, Fenit suffered greatly and, as a consequence, went into what appeared at one stage to be an irreversible decline. Thankfully, there has been a transformation and the port has enjoyed considerable development in recent years, including the provision of a marina which can accommodate in excess of 100 yachts, with proposals to further extend the marina. Fenit is still an important fishing facility, both for local commercial fishermen and leisure fishing which is an important part of the local tourism industry and also serves a commercial purpose for local business.

Liebherr has continued to export cranes from Fenit to ports throughout the world on a monthly basis and effectively kept viable the commercial sector of the port. In contrast, Foynes is a heavy industrial port and it makes no sense to the people of Fenit to amalgamate the two ports under one authority. As Deputy Broughan stated last week in the House, there are questions about some of the decisions made at Foynes which would not fill the people of Fenit with confidence. The same case is being made by people in Bantry about the proposal to bring that harbour under the same authority as Cork Port and for similar reasons, given the different uses to which the two ports are put.

Fenit Port and Bantry are similar in many ways. In Fenit there is leisure, commercial fishing and cargo. A predominantly industrial port such as Foynes would not be in any way compatible with what happens in Fenit Port. That is why I intend to seek to amend the Bill at sections 18 and 19 and seek similar changes to Schedule 2 to remove the references to Fenit and Bantry so the two ports would remain as they are in terms of management and overall supervision and that the Tralee and Fenit Pier and Harbour Commissioners and the Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners are retained. There is a reference that this would not take place without consultation, but it would be far preferable for me and other Deputies from those areas that this would be removed completely. That view seems to be generally shared around the coast in that local democratically elected representatives ought to be involved as they have been traditionally in the port and harbour authorities.

This Bill proposes to centralise that authority and in that way remove any input from local representatives from, for example, the Fenit or Bantry areas. The authority that replaces them and which does not have that representation cannot be expected to represent those local and particular interests in the same way. The Bill proposes to reduce the level of involvement by workers' representatives on the authorities.

The Tralee and Fenit Pier and Harbour Board comprises management, workers, local representatives and members of the Tralee Chamber of Commerce. It works very well. The management plan sent to the Department and the way the port has been revitalised and transformed are testament to the work the harbour board has done. If that were taken away and put under the authority of the Foynes Harbour Board it would be detrimental to a small port such as Fenit. It would also be detrimental to the service it provides, including a lifeboat service and the fact that it is a very safe harbour for people to come in and out of. There are some very interesting and ambitious but achievable plans to extend the marina and provide a further amenity and service to the coastal areas and the local economy. That is of major importance and cannot be overlooked.

In general terms regarding port and harbour facilities, it is vital to enhance port capacity as part of a strategy to encourage indigenous industry linked to exports. One of the issues that emerged from the report on farming and fishing in the western counties, which was adopted only yesterday by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, was the need to focus on local job creation, through the Leader programmes for example, which have had a high level of success in creating locally sustainable jobs. The success of those local and sustainable jobs far outnumbers that which comes in from the IDA in our areas. As part of that, it is necessary that local fish processors, for example, as well as other businesses have the facilities available to move their produce quickly, and local ports have a central role to play in that. To develop a sustainable and viable fishing sector it is necessary to use local harbours and ports so they can complement onshore investment in developing a processing sector that will be also able to complement what happens at sea.

If there were a serious plan to develop the domestic fish processing sector rather than continue with the current high level of exports of unprocessed fish, there also needs to be the capacity in ports. Unfortunately however, the impact of recent budgetary changes, apart from the impact of the overall economic downturn, have exacerbated the situation. For example, the cut in funding for renewable energy projects will not only have an immediate financial impact on those concerned but will also inhibit the development of future local renewable energy projects. In the current climate would the turbine built by the fishing co-op at Burtonport be adequately supported? I doubt it. It is used to power the local fish processing plant and thereby create jobs and exports, which is where the local port facilities come into play. Such thinking, focused on the creation of sustainable local jobs tied to local resources and local infrastructure, is required rather than the current obsession with making short-term savings that will, in the long-term, impose a bigger burden on the State through social welfare and so on.

There are other aspects to this Bill on land acquisition by An Bord Pleanála which concern me but overall, if these issues I have raised can be addressed, the Bill has positive aspects and must be supported. I compliment many aspects of it. However, similar circumstances surround Bantry, which is not in my constituency, and Fenit, which is, and I have intimate and first-hand knowledge and experience of this. I hope, as the Bill passes through its various Stages, this will be taken into account. Above all, I hope the references to them will be removed entirely from the Bill, despite the implication that nothing will take place without consultation. I have my doubts about that and that is why I hope the Minister will take all that on board.

This is a single issue speech on behalf of Bantry Bay, the second biggest harbour in the world, after Sydney Harbour. It has been host to shipping over the centuries. The Hoche expedition came in there in 1796. It was a base for the British fleet and a corner of it, in Castletownbere, was one of the treaty ports. It has a long tradition and I make a special plea that its identity and the authority of the harbour commissioners there be retained. There are objective cases to be made for that.

Bantry Harbour is a busy, active port and the commissioners there form a busy, cost-effective, efficient and profitable body. It has run its affairs at a profit for years. I cannot understand why the Minister wants to shovel Bantry Bay into the Port of Cork. Cork Port is almost 60 miles away from Bantry. It is already a busy port with its own affairs to run. The notion of the Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners being an add-on to the Port of Cork is anathema to the people of west Cork in general and the people of Bantry in particular.

The Minister has given no consideration to this proposal. He did not even mention it in his speech to the House. He has not taken into account the fact that Bantry Bay has a broad range of marine activities. There is fishing, aquaculture, tourism and the oil trans-shipment terminal at Whiddy Island. There have been other activities in the bay such as stone export and so on. In recent years Bantry Bay hosted the largest tanker in the world. Yet the Minister proposes in this Bill to abolish the local harbour board, which was reconstituted after the Betelgeuse disaster as a result of the recommendations of the Costello tribunal at the time. He made a specific recommendation for this body, and the Minister wants to take power to abolish it and subsume it into the Port of Cork.

I have nothing against the Port of Cork. As far as I can see it runs its operations well, in Cork Harbour, which is what it was established to do. I cannot see how a body such as the Port of Cork could give anything other than cursory consideration to issues that apply in a port 60 miles away from its main operation.

I wish to record my very strong objection to the powers being taken here. This is opposed utterly by the people I represent. It is not in the best interests of Bantry and no case has been made for it. Why does the Minister take an efficient profitable body that is running its affairs effectively and, without a "by your leave", use power to hand it over to another body? It defies common sense.

The Minister may ask what is the future. By a remarkable coincidence, there will be a ceremony tomorrow to mark the next stage of the development of Bantry, organised by the Bantry Bay harbour commissioners. This is the beginning of a major contract for the development of the inner harbour, the first phase of which involves a substantial dredging operation. The contract by the Bantry Bay Harbour Commission is to be signed tomorrow. What in the name of goodness is the Minister doing by trying to cut the legs from under the very sensible, carefully planned and financially organised arrangements of the Bantry Bay Harbour Commission?

I demand some element of justification for this approach. This has not been forthcoming. I am quite prepared to, and am sure I am in a position to, rebut any phony justifications that may be produced. The Bill went through the Seanad and in consequence of issues raised there it was amended, marginally. The Bill originally provided for the direct transfer of all the operations, powers, duties, functions, property and responsibilities of the Bantry Bay harbour commissioners to the Port of Cork, by order of the Minister. In the Seanad, grudgingly and under some pressure, the Minister provided a smokescreen for this by saying he would have local consultation. He would amend the Bill but would only do so after local consultation. That is like the fellow who said: "We'll give them a fair trial before we hang them". Who was he trying to cod and con with that amendment? The power still remains, unaltered, with the Minister and the fact that he must issue a notice and listen to local people before he signs the order does not affect that power by one iota.

I ask the Minister to think again and appreciate that what he is doing is wrong. He may produce a report that was brought out years ago in order to give some credence to his position. If he does this, he may refer to the report made after the Whiddy disaster when the terminal was badly damaged as a result of the French ship Betelgeuse blowing up there. Obviously, the port was not in proper operation for some years after that. In the meantime a major single point mooring, SPM, was located off the Whiddy terminal. That SPM was commissioned approximately ten years ago and is designed to handle vessels up to 320,000 DWT, deadweight tonnage. How many ports in the country can do that? One would probably have difficulty naming them. Both crude and refined product, including gasoline, crude, jet, DP, kerosene and gas oil, have been handled at the SPM. It is an enormous facility and is operational. We have floating roof tanks there and it is a major operation, very well run now by Conoco-Phillips.

I hesitate to think the following because the idea seems to come from the Minister. Is it the case that the Port of Cork wishes to get its hands on this kind of operation? I say, "Hands off"; Bantry Bay is doing fine as it is and we are happy as we are. The harbour commissioners are running it well.

There was a more recent due diligence report on behalf of the Port of Cork, by direction of the Minister, to which I recently had access. I understand the report stated that Bantry Bay and its harbour commissioners were very efficient and profitable and that Bantry Bay was one of the most efficient ports in the country. That dangles the prize even more temptingly in front of the Port of Cork. My take on that report, however, is that it totally reinforces the case I make for the independence of the Bantry Bay Harbour Commission.

My message to the Minister is very simple. There are many good things in this Bill but he should take his hands off Bantry Bay Harbour Commission. There is a strong streak of independence in west Cork. We have done fine without the ministrations of either the Minister or the Port of Cork over the years and we wish to continue that way. If the Minister wishes to do anything for the Port of Cork, I shall make a suggestion. The people of west Cork strongly supported the re-establishment of the Cork-Swansea ferry, not to come into Bantry Bay but to go into the Port of Cork. We raised a very substantial sum of money towards that project, with the full support and enthusiastic encouragement of the Port of Cork, which was hardly surprising as the ship would be based there. In west Cork we would gain substantially if the Cork-Swansea ferry were re-established because in the past it was significantly important to us from the point of view of tourism. If Deputy Ferris has left I can say that west Cork is the premier tourist centre in the country although there might be some spillover business for County Kerrry too.

We have seen very little concrete encouragement from this Government towards the re-establishment of that ferry which is so vital to the development of tourism. Joking apart, it really is vital for the entire south-west region. If the Minister wishes to turn his eyes to west Cork, he can extend the Port of Cork, accept a plea from a long-time representative of the area and support the re-establishment of the Cork-Swansea ferry. That would give a great deal of support to the Port of Cork because the ferry would be trading in and out, and would give much support to the entire south-west region. There are some inhibitions concerning how that support might be funded because of EU restrictions but there are ways and means of supporting the re-establishment of that access route.

Therefore, I have two messages for the Minister with regard to the Harbours Bill. First, hands off west Cork and Bantry Bay and second, if he really wishes to do something for the area, let him direct his mind and efforts and not necessarily an enormous sum, but whatever limited amount of finance can be organised, towards encouraging the co-opted efforts of the people of west Cork in conjunction with the Port of Cork to get the Cork-Swansea ferry re-established. It will be in place from 1 March of next year but there is need for some support from the Government in order that the arrangement be completely copperfastened.

This Bill deals mainly with certain amendments to the Harbours Act 1996. As Minister for the Marine at that time, I had the pleasure of introducing that legislation. Although I welcome some of these amendments as progress because time moves on there are some points in this legislation to which I object strenuously. I refer in particular to the abolition of local authority representation by way of having directors on the board. There is neither sense nor meaning to this. The Government is attempting to reduce the number of directors from 12 to eight. That is being achieved by repealing the provision whereby local authorities nominate three of the directors on each board. It is also stating that staff representation is to be confined to one, irrespective of the number of staff. With the greatest respect to staff, to have no public representation on a board, where in most areas a harbour is very much part and parcel of the local authority area, is absurd. The harbour is a gateway to many activities within the local authority's jurisdiction. It does not make sense to allow staff to be represented but with no provision on the board for the local authority.

It is also proposed to discontinue the representation of the main user of the ports. Again, no reason seems to be given for this. In my constituency, Dún Laoghaire, for example, one of the principal sources of income is the ferry service. It is important, in my opinion, that the main ferry provider should have some say in what is going to happen within the harbour, so that this does not interfere with the business of bringing people in and out of this country. We are getting rid of that representation.

When I was setting up these boards, as Minister of State for the Marine, I came under enormous pressure from various organisations and groups to have automatic representation, which I resisted. However, when it came to the local authority and the user, I saw sense in giving some degree of automatic representation in those instances. I appeal to the Government to reconsider its plan to reduce the number of directors from 12 to eight. It might consider reducing the number to ten, perhaps, leaving provision for some degree of local authority representation, and I would be prepared to accept that. However, to automatically delete these representatives without giving any reason in any documentation I have seen, just does not make sense.

As Deputy Jim O'Keeffe was speaking about Bantry, I was mindful that Dún Laoghaire Harbour is a great example of what we were trying to achieve in 1996, namely, to let the major ports operate on a commercial basis, and that has been very successful. We need to have people on these boards who look at the issues in a commercial way and are not open to influence from any vested interest groups, which would be to the detriment of the profitability of the whole set-up. Dún Laoghaire is a good example of what has been achieved. In those days we also set up the marina there. Rather than give over part of the harbour to any private individual, a State-run marina was set up through the harbour company, and that has been tremendously successful, so that now the marina in Dún Laoghaire is the largest in the whole country. It proves that where there is a State company, properly managed, with a board that is representative of all the good things necessary for running a company on a commercial basis, there will be a success story. Simply because the shareholder happens to be the State does not necessarily mean that it cannot be run on a commercial basis. It has been proven that such a model can be successful.

It is vitally important to have a board comprising directors that know what they are talking about and who link in to the activities of a local authority. One cannot really discriminate between Dún Laoghaire Harbour and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown local authority. In fact most people believe the local authority is responsible for various features in the harbour, particularly given the massive recreational facility. Dún Laoghaire is unique in that respect, as regards, say, walking the piers, sailing or whatever. Therefore the local authority is naturally involved in some respects in ensuring that access to the harbour is maintained and so on. For these reasons I believe it is important to have some local authority representation. There is no better person for this role than the elected member who will represent his or her local authority on a board. I understand the Minister for State, Deputy John Curran, is not directly responsible for this legislation, but I would appeal to him to ask whoever is responsible to reconsider this point.

Another aspect of the legislation begins to worry me, namely, the Department poking its nose into the business of running a commercial State company. Perhaps the Minister of State will explain, in his reply, why section 10, which is an amendment to section 8 of the original Bill, provides for the port companies to annually furnish to the Minister information regarding the number of employees employed or expected to be employed over the course of the next accounting year. Why in God's name do we need a provision in legislation with a board, which is supposed to be run on a commercial basis, a chief executive and a chairman? The chairman I had, originally, in Dún Laoghaire was Mr. Philip Lynch, one of Ireland's leading business people, who gave up his time voluntarily to serve. Why, in God's name, do we want to start requiring a board to advise the Minister, in the event of it employing more than 30 people? What will the Minister do about it, or what is the reason for it?

It frightens me to see such interference creeping in, given that a State company is run by a board of directors, each of whom knows what he or she is doing and what has to be achieved — with a chief executive appointed to run the company on a commercial basis and make a profit. Whether there are 31 or 29 employees should not be the business of a Minister in a Department which is not directly responsible for the day to day running of the company. Perhaps the Minister of State will explain why this is necessary, because once we start down this road there will be all types of further interference.

On those two issues, I appeal, not on a party political basis but for the proper running of State companies as regards the control of our important harbours and ports. If something is working we should leave it, and not interfere with any entity that is working perfectly well, without very good reason. I do not know why the Government wants to change the numbers on a board from 12 to eight, when crucially this is to interfere with the representation of local authorities, which in most cases, are indirectly involved with the running of the day to day affairs in harbours or ports. I look forward to hearing the Minister of State's reply.

On behalf of the Minister for Transport, Deputy Noel Dempsey, I thank Deputies for the comprehensive manner in which they have contributed to the debate on this important Bill. In particular, I will relay the points made by Deputy Barrett on the make-up of the board to the Minister. I listened to what he said and notes of it have been taken.

We all acknowledge the importance of our commercial ports in facilitating our past and future economic growth. All sides have also acknowledged that the Bill contains some important provisions which will aid the development of the sector in the years ahead.

I would like to address some of the specific issues raised by Deputies during the course of the debate. Deputies O'Dowd and Broughan referred to the connectivity of our ports to the overall transport network. The integration of the commercial ports into overall transport policy was a key aim of the ports policy statement. In a repeat of a previous exercise in 2005, the Department of Transport contacted all ports in 2008 and requested they identify priorities to help inform departmental consideration of future transport projects. The overall integration of all aspects of our transport network is a cornerstone of the Department of Transport's statement of strategy.

In reference to the views expressed by a number of Deputies regarding the proposals in section 11 to remove the statutory representation of local authority members, the Minister for Transport has acknowledged that this proposal may be seen by some as an unwelcome break from established tradition. However, I refer to the overriding purpose of this Bill, which is to enhance the commercial ethos of the port companies. The port companies are the only bodies within the State commercial sector that retain this provision, which itself is a remnant of their previous existence as quasi-local authorities in the guise of harbour boards. There is clearly a need to bring the port companies into line with other commercial bodies and to reform the board structure by removing this restrictive provision as regards board membership.

Deputy O'Dowd raised a question as to the rationale behind the provisions contained in section 6 of the Bill relating to the disposal of land by port companies. I can assure the Deputy that this provision is merely intended to bring the legislation into line with current Department of Finance guidelines. It corrects a drafting imperfection in the existing Act. The Deputy also referred to the issues within some port companies regarding their pension liabilities. In cases where there are such issues, the port companies are in communication with the Pensions Board regarding the timeframe for rectifying any deficits they may have in their pension funds. This is in line with the recently enacted Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2008. Deputy O'Dowd raised a valid point regarding the valuation of a company's assets in the context of the falling values experienced across the economy in the last 18 months or so. The Minister's opinion is that the inclusion of the €200 million figure in section 9 would alleviate any concerns the Deputy may have with regard to this matter and ensure that our ports are not constrained in relation to their borrowing requirements.

Deputy Broughan commented on the length of time taken from the publication of the Government's ports policy statement in 2005 to the publication of the Bill in July 2008. Arising out of the recommendations of the ports policy statement, the Department of Transport initiated a national seaport capacity study to evaluate capacity needs and proposed projects. This very important and valuable piece of work was commenced in late 2005 and concluded in mid-2006. I am sure all sides of the House would acknowledge the importance of awaiting its conclusions before commencing any legislative drafting process. Following on from the publication of the capacity report in 2006, a widespread period of consultation followed, which allowed all relevant stakeholders to put forward ideas and suggestions. This period of consultation also enabled the Department of Transport time to take account of emerging needs in the sector, such as the proposed development at Bremore. It is clear that in the case of this Bill, there were clear processes in play which helped shape the evolution of the legislation.

With regard to Deputy Broughan's comments on the standardisation of employee directors on boards, the Minister does not disagree with his assertion that employee directors have made an "overwhelmingly positive contribution to boards". One must remember that in terms of direct employee numbers, the port companies are some of the smallest employers in the State sector and that already seven of the ten ports have one employee director out of a total of 12 directors. In terms of the overall reduction in board numbers from 12 to eight proposed in section 8, standardising the number of employee directors at one per port company will ensure that the contribution they have made in the past will continue to be convincingly made in the future.

With regard to the appointment of the chief executive officer to the board, I would highlight the fact that such appointments are standard practice both within the State commercial sector and the private sector. It is not considered that such appointments represent any conflict of interest. On the contrary, they are in line with standard corporate governance practice.

With regard to the Bremore project and the potential impacts it may have on surrounding communities, I remind Deputy Broughan that the development of these proposals are at an early stage. The entire project will be subject to the normal planning process of any large scale development and that process will afford all potentially affected stakeholders an opportunity to make a submission on the matter. Deputy Broughan also referred to the issue of amalgamation of port companies. One of the key aims of the ports policy statement is to encourage competition between port companies. The Harbours Act 2000 does provide for amalgamation of port companies but there are no proposals under consideration at present. Merger proposals are considered on a case by case basis in light of prevailing circumstances.

Another element of the ports policy statement was that of regulation of the ports. The position today remains as that outlined in the statement, namely that there is no proposal for a regulator to be appointed having regard to the structure of the sector, including the high degree of competition and the substantial level of private sector investment in ports.

The Minister for Transport agrees with Deputy Broughan's reference to the importance of Dublin Port in the context of both the national and regional economy. It was in the light of this importance that the national development plan provided for a comprehensive study on its future role and I am pleased to say that the work of this study is almost complete. The work undertaken by this study and the work proposed to be undertaken by the Dublin Bay task force are quite separate yet inextricably linked. The Dublin Bay task force, established by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, in July 2008, will look at the bay as a whole and examine a range of issues. The focused work of the Department's study will feed into and inform any eventual outcomes of the work of the task force.

My colleague, Deputy Dooley, referred to the important regional role and potential of Shannon Foynes Port Company. The Shannon Estuary is a major natural resource and the Minister is fully supportive of the exploitation of its potential on the basis of commercially viable proposals.

Deputy Broughan raised the difficulties faced by Shannon Foynes Port Company in recent years. As the Deputy is aware, the company commissioned an internal audit report of process and procedure and the board are committed to implementing its recommendations. In September 2008, the Minister for Transport appointed a new chairperson and five other directors to the board of the company. It is the board of the company, in the first instance, which is responsible for corporate governance. However, his Department continues to closely monitor the company's business in accordance with normal corporate governance practice.

Deputy Broughan also raised the unique position of Rosslare Harbour. As he is aware, Rosslare is not one of the ten State commercial port companies and its legislative standing is a rather complex one dating back to the 19th century. Currently, CIE is the de facto owner of the company charged with maintaining the harbour, along with Stena Line. I can confirm that there is no specific legislation under development at present, but this will be kept under review.

While the Minister respects Deputy Sheehan's impassioned contribution in respect of section 18, I remind the House that the proposal contained within the Bill is not in itself a transfer of Bantry Bay Harbour to Port of Cork Company control. This matter was also raised by Deputy Jim O'Keeffe. It is an enabling provision only, which merely adds to the suite of options currently available in respect of the harbour. The amendment made to the section during its passage through the Seanad will ensure that all local and regional stakeholders will have a platform to have their voices heard prior to any decision being made in respect of a transfer of responsibility to the Port of Cork Company.

With regard to section 17 and Deputy Doyle's comments regarding Arklow Harbour, the rationale for the proposal was outlined quite clearly in the Minister's introductory speech on the Bill. However, I would highlight the fact that the section does not in itself transfer the harbour to local authority control. The option to create a private company in respect of the harbour will remain, under section 87 of the 1996 Act.

The insertion of the term "Minister for Transport" in place of "the Minister" in relation to the Irish Maritime Development Office, contained in section 20, is merely an administrative exercise to reflect the fact that responsibility for the office rests with the Minister for Transport rather than the Minister responsible for the Marine Institute itself.

The Harbours (Amendment) Bill 2008 is important legislation in terms of equipping our commercial port companies with the legislative tools required to continue their development and evolution as full commercial companies. The Bill has been subject to an extensive consultation process stretching back a number of years, with important contributions from the various stakeholders within the sector. That consultation process helped to shape the development of the Government's port policy statement of 2005 and the Bill.

I thank Deputies for their contributions to the debate. The Minister looks forward to continuing the discussion on Committee Stage.

Question put and declared carried.